Targeted Micro Mentoring Helps Librarians Advance and Problem-Solve | Professional Development

Micro mentoring connects people in order to focus short-term on specific areas of professional development. 

Between 2014 and 2016, I helped manage a mentoring program for the Young Adult Library Services Association. Our mentors needed to each agree to spend one full year working with a protégé. It wasn’t easy finding people who would commit to that amount of time. In retrospect, that traditional time-intensive mentoring format might have been replaced by micro mentoring.

Micro mentoring connects a mentor who has the ability to help with one skill or knowledge area that the protégé would like to work on. For example, when Danielle Jones, currently youth and teen librarian at Multnomah County (OR) Library (MCL), was starting out as a librarian, she was assigned a long-term mentor. She was trying to launch a teen advisory council, and it “was off to what felt like a messy start,” Jones says. “It felt like chaos, and I was trying to keep to my goals of building community [while] keeping the teens in charge.”

That was when her colleague, MCL bilingual youth librarian Violeta Garza, stepped in. “She had me shadow her at her teen council, and met to talk about my experience where we discussed teen development needs and strategies,” Jones says. “It was encouraging and reassuring that even though it felt messy, desired outcomes were happening.”

Jones went to one of Garza’s teen council meetings, and they had one follow-up meeting. Danielle was intentional about the type of mentoring support she needed, as a result, she learned what she needed to learn quickly.

In a pandemic world, in which there are many new professional opportunities and challenges, micro mentoring is a chance to quickly acquire additional knowledge or skill. Micro mentoring can easily take place via Zoom or another video platform. However, before focusing on the technology, it’s important to think about what makes a successful micro mentoring experience, overall. The protégé should have:

● Clarity about what their need is. “Whereas in a long-term mentoring relationship you might deal with very deep, complex issues, in [micro mentoring] sessions it’s best to stick to a smaller, clearly defined and achievable goal," according to an article by Everwise founder Ian Glover. Danielle knew exactly what she needed and wanted to learn from her colleague and focused just on that.

● Knowledge of the amount of time the micro mentor will need to spend in the mentoring activity. Is this a five-minute conversation, or is it something that merits discussion over a couple of weeks? Some topics may require a conversation, then trying out ideas discussed, followed by reflection with the micro mentor about what worked, didn’t work, etc. It’s important at the outset to be clear with the micro mentor what the expected time commitment is and it’s equally important to stick to the amount of time agreed upon.

● Careful consideration of who the right micro mentor for the topic of interest is. Since the mentoring experience is going to be short-term, there isn’t a lot of time to build a relationship with the micro mentor. One question to ask is, for this specific mentoring topic, is a prior relationship important? Sometimes the answer will be “yes,” and other times you might realize the nature of the need doesn’t require it.

● Careful thinking about the skills and/or knowledge the micro mentor needs to have that will help in gaining the skill or knowledge of interest. When connecting with a potential micro mentor, it’s important to let that person know what are the qualifications they have that are relevant to the need.

The micro mentor also needs to decide if the request is right for them. The micro mentor might consider:

● Whether or not there is a previous relationship with the protégé. If there isn’t one, is it possible and comfortable to provide the support requested? Has it shown that there is enough of a trusting give-and-take between the micro mentor and the protégé?

READ: The Right and Wrong Way To Make Decisions in a Crisis | Reimagining Libraries

● Is the micro mentoring request doable in the period of time that the protégé is suggesting? Critically evaluate what the request is and if the protégé is underestimating or overestimating the time required to have a successful micro mentoring experience.

● If the skill or knowledge that is being requested is something the potential micro mentor actually can address. Consider asking the protégé why the contact was made and make sure that their assessments of skills match actual experience.

Along with making sure the micro mentoring duo is right for each other, it is important to consider what format the experience will happen in. If a face-to-face interaction isn’t possible, and the plan is to use video conferencing, each person should be able to use the video features of the selected platform. While it’s possible to have a session with just audio, video helps to build the relationship between the micro mentor and protégé. The range of visuals, including body language and facial expression, help create better understanding between those involved. When using a video platform, consider tools you might use for engagement. The chat feature might be a good way to post a set of questions that the protégé has and also a way to take notes and make sure that what the micro mentor is expressing is being correctly understood. Consider if recording the micro mentoring experience will be useful, in order to give the protégé a chance to go back and dig deeper into what the mentor had to say. If the session is going to be recorded, make sure everyone involved agrees and that everyone is clear about how the recording will be used after the session.

Micro mentoring can provide growth opportunities for all library staff, at any level in an organization. Remember, a micro mentoring experience doesn’t have to be a one and done occurrence. A protégé might find that the micro mentor is someone who is available to provide more support at a later date. It could be “the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”

Linda W. Braun is a learning consultant for LEO,  a company that specializes in developing and assessing creative learning opportunities in informal and formal environments.

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